Local bikers join in Alaska’s largest race of its kind
Balloons, bunting and a few familiar faces greeted finishers in last week’s Fireweed 400, the state’s largest bicycle race. While hundreds of solo and relay cyclers signed up for the various legs of the race, a group of Valdez women formed a relay team and completed the Fireweed Double Century, which runs from the Sheep Mountain Lodge on the Glenn Highway, ending in Valdez.
“It was very fun,” said Karen Weiland, “Very exciting.”
Weiland joined Valdez cohorts Bonnie Cudnohufsky, Cecilia Sanchez and Carol Simmons to form team 50/50 to enter the women’s relay for those aged 50-64 years. And the group made it, finishing with a time of 14:35:41.8.
“We started at 6 a.m.,” she said “and just alternated riders.”
Including what she described as the “brutal” conditions on the ride up Thompson Pass.
“It was really, really bad,” Weiland said. “It was howling windy. It was hitting us sideways.”
Oh, and there was also low cloud cover too, just to add to the estimated 40 mile per hour winds.
“That was tough,” she said of the climb up, which the team members shared.
Simmons, she said, took the honors of the ride down the Pass into Keystone Canyon. “We regrouped at the salmon turnaround.”
When the group rode to the finish line at the DOT station, familiar faces greeted them she said.
Valdez man Matt Kinney was there, having completed the 50 Mile trial race in the same age category for men.
While other cyclists were in it to beat the competition, the Valdez women said they were in it for the experience. In fact, Weiland said it was her first-ever bicycling competition.
“We were doing it for fun,” she said. “We weren’t doing it because we wanted to win.”
Others took the race very, very seriously.
The men’s relay team Mount Rushmore from Anchorage “shattered” the race’s previous record in the 400 race, which runs from Sheep Mountain to Valdez, then back to Sheep Mountain. The team made the run in 16 hours, 20 minutes and 18 seconds, beating the previous record by 35 minutes. According to the Anchorage Daily news, Mount Rushmore is made up of cyclists Eric Breitenberger, Daniel Folmar, Fred Harbison and Tom Peichel.
The finish line ends with a free barbeque, band and other Valdez volunteer efforts.